wenn der Heranwachsende aufhooore zu spielen, gebe er “nichts anderes... Objekte; anstatt zu spielen, phantasiert er jetzt. Er schafft...

wenn der Heranwachsende aufhooore zu spielen, gebe er “nichts anderes auf als die Anlehnung an reale
Objekte; anstatt zu spielen, phantasiert er jetzt. Er schafft sich Luftschloosser, schafft das, was man
Tagtraaaume nennt.”
if the adolescent finishes playing it is no other than the leaving of real objects
Creative Writers and Daydreaming
German 390/Comp. Lit. 320
Lecture Notes: Freud, "Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming" (updated 10/11/04)
1. Background
1. In Interpretation of Dreams Freud writes about the presence of "involuntary ideas" in dreams and
refers to remarks by the German poet Friedrich Schiller as a way of explaining how we can gain access to
these "involuntary ideas" by relaxing our rational control over the imagination. (See handout; to view the
handout, click here.)
—Freud, following Schiller, proposes that artistic or literary creativity occurs when reason ceases to
police the imagination and our productive fantasy is given free reign.
—Literary creativity is implicitly identified with the work of the unconscious, with an imaginative
capacity free from the constraints of rationality, of the demands of the ego. Rationality or reason are
applied by the creative artist only in a secondary stage, to organize the ideas produced by the imagination.
2. "
Pleasure principle" versus "reality principle": Freud distinguishes 2 principles of mental functioning
(see Freud Reader 301-06).
1) The "primary process," also called the "pleasure principle," seeks constant enjoyment and
gratification; but it constantly is at odds with society, the world, norms, laws, etc. in its incessant drive for
2) The "secondary process" or "reality principle" forms as a psychic representative of this resistance
on the part of the world; it appeals to rationality, common sense, etc. and invokes the principle of delayed
—Freud believes that the persistent conflict between the pleasure and reality principles causes
humans to create a space free of this tension in which pleasurable wishes are not subject to reality-testing
(hence free of censorship): this is the realm of the fantasy, or of pure imagination. This domain includes,
for Freud, child’s play, dreams, day-dreaming, fictions of all sorts, and especially literary (or artistic)
creativity. See Freud Reader 303.
1. "
Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming" (1907)
1. German title: "Der Dichter und das Phantasieren"
—"Dichter" = poet, but related to verb "dichten" = to poeticize, but also to make dense, condense.
Freud’s word for "condensation," the principle of the dream-work = "Verdichtung": it uses the same
German stem. Implication: Dichtung (literary creativity) and Verdichtung (condensation) are inherently
related, operate in part according to the same creative principles.
—"Phantasieren" = imagination, fantasy, creative thought. It is not limited to "day-dreaming," as
the English translation suggests.
2. Freud’s 2 questions about the creative writer:
1) What is the source on which the creative writer bases her fictions? Whence does she derive her
2) Why does this material have such a powerful effect on us as readers?
3. Freud’s answer to the first question (occupies him for most of this essay):
1. Freud searches for an activity analogous to the imaginative work of the creative writer that
occupies all human beings; he discovers this in child’s play.
—Play = German Spiel = play in all its senses, including drama, role-playing, etc.
—Child creates a fantasy world of her own in which the elements of the real world are rearranged in
a manner that pleases her. The child invests this world with reality, takes it seriously. This world of "play,"
of "make-believe" is not subject to reality-testing, it exists prior to the formation of the reality principle.
(See Freud Reader 437)
—The same is true for the creative writer (for Freud); she creates a world of fantasy, invests it with
real emotions, and yet separates it sharply from reality. This separation frees creative imagination from
accommodation to the reality principle.
—Consequences of unreality, fictionality of writer’s world:
a) Things not enjoyable in reality become pleasurable in fiction. Why? Because we experience these
distressing things vicariously, without any real threat.
b) The pleasure principle is the dominant mental function in the life of the imagination.
2. Freud identifies humor as the psychic situation in the life of the adult that is analogous to the play
of the child. Humor as escape from the reality principle; it makes light of the serious. Creative writing has a
parallel effect–and, as in humor, it has this effect not only for the writer but also for the reader, it transmits
this emotional release through the act of reception.
3. Freud and the economy of pleasure = no pleasure ever abandoned; it is simply exchanged for
another form of pleasure. Child’s play is replaced by humor is replaced by literature etc. (Just as in
economic life no value is ever sacrificed, but just re-invested in new objects: money is traded for food,
consumer items, etc. Value merely changes its shape, its manifestation. This is how Freud understands our
need for pleasure.)
—But adults are ashamed of their fantasies; this shame generally prevents them from sharing the
life of their imagination with others. Fear of revealing too much (like Gustl!).
—But a certain class of humans must reveal their fantasies: these are neurotics, who confess their
fantasies to their analysts in order to be cured of their symptoms.
4. Writers assume a place in Freud’s psychological topography of the human species half-way
between neurotics and "normal" adults.
—Like neurotics, they communicate their fantasies.
—They are the Hermes of the imagination: the bridge between those who must relate their fantasies
(neurotics) and those who refuse to.
—Writers (artists) thus situated in proximity to neurotics. (Compare to portrayals in films by
Woody Allen, for example)
5. 2 Main groups of fantasies:
1) Ambitious = elevate the subject, portray accomplishment, enhanced social status, etc.
2) Erotic = present sexual gratification, success in love, relationships, etc.
—Note Freud’s gender biases! Erotic fantasies linked predominantly to women, ambitious to men!
(See Freud Reader 439)
—Ambitious and erotic wishes often unite in our fantasies.
6. Freud’s view of the creative writer as such:
—Not ancient writers, who rely on pre-given, traditional material (like myth), but explicitly creative
writers who produce purely out of their imagination.
—Not "classical" writers or producers of "high" literary art, but mostly popular writers, authors of
romances, novels, etc. (Think of Danielle Steele; especially the covers of super-market novels.)
—Hero in these tales = "His Majesty the Ego"; all literature of this sort (like dreams) is egoistic. In
hero we live danger vicariously and hence overcome the sense of our own vulnerability. The hero is always
the writer or reader. Good people in the literary world are helpers, bad people are enemies, rivals. In case of
the modern writer, the hero is often fragmented into many parts, split off into several characters.
D) Freud’s answer to the second question, the reasons for the effect of literature.
We take no pleasure in hearing the fantasies of real people, so why do the fantasies of creative writers give
us such inordinate pleasure?
1. The egoistic character of these fantasies is mollified by the creative artist; this penetrates barriers
between egos, overcomes the "repulsion" we feel at being witness to the intimacies of others. (As in
dreams, distortion is used to get beyond our natural censorship.)
2. Writer bribes us with the purely aesthetic pleasure of beautiful form, structure, etc. This "incentive
pleasure" or "fore-pleasure," as Freud calls it, makes possible the release of a greater pleasure in the depth
of our own psyches. The fore-taste of aesthetic pleasure, as it were, whets our appetites for the experience
of greater pleasure and allows the release of our own pent-up psychic tension. Our pleasure in the
imaginative work derives from this release of our own psychic tension that, in turn, derives from our
identification with the fictional world and our ability to vicariously experience our own fantasies without
shame and self-reproach. (See Freud Reader 443)
E) Summary: Consequence of this theory for definition of creative writer.
1. Writers are egoistic; hero = writer’s self. Literature is hence fundamentally autobiographical.
2. Writers as borderline neurotics; literary, imaginative activity provides them with the release that
prevents them from becoming neurotics. Creativity is a substitute for neurotic symptoms, pathologies, etc.
3. Writing is a form of confession, similar to the confession the neurotic makes to his/her analyst.
4. Literature is therapeutic: both for the writer and for the reader. In literature we vicariously live out
our own wishes, potentials, dangers, problems, etc.
5. The structure of literature is like the structure of dreams; creative imagination operates according to
the same principles that shape dream images. Condensation, displacement, composite images, spatial logic,
lack of systematic connections, lack of causality–these should all be operative mechanisms in the texture of